The beauty of children is all there, in the pureness of their souls and the idealistic hope that grows in their hearts. They are too often subject to the rhetoric of adults who, now devoid of the necessary tools and maybe even disinterested, look to them to take on the responsibility of saving a future that we have not been able to protect. Yet this should not be their burden to carry, in their innocent minds their priority should be to play. Remember the words of Gianni Rodari in his “Promemoria” (“memo” in English) which, as he says, all children should bear in mind.

There are things to be done every day:
washing oneself, studying, playing,
setting the table
at midday.
There are things to be done every night:
closing one’s eyes, sleeping,
having dreams to dream,
ears for listening.
There are things never to be done,
neither by day nor by night,
neither by sea nor by land:
for example, war. 

And yes, they play. Even during the flood, there were children who did not stop playing. Children like Marco, who wasn’t even 10 years old at the time. In his essay, he wrote that a flask of wine was being passed back and forth in the water. He looked for his crossbow to hit it, but couldn’t find it. “Then I made some clay balls, but the flask was already too far away and I couldn’t pull it in. A few minutes later a carboy passed and I pulled it in and grabbed it. Crates of Moretti fell in the water and looked like men doing a swimming competition”.

Marco’s quote is not a random one. And nor is Rodari’s. Because long before his name adorned many Tuscan schools, he collaborated with Florence and the children who lived through the flood of 1966 to publish a book of short stories and drawings which would otherwise have been forgotten. Idana Pescioli and Lamberto Borghi worked together with him on the project, which came together in the volume “Com’era l’acqua, i bambini di Firenze raccontano” (“What the Water was Like, As Described by the Children of Florence”) (La Nuova Italia, 1967).

“I saw a kitten sitting on a cupboard pass by. Every minute he went round a street and came back again”.

In the end over 200 children got involved. Some wrote down what they remembered, securing the memories of minor incidents that most people never would have known about given the extent of the devastation. Others drew illustrations, often stunning ones, where the most common colour was almost always the brown used for the mud which had covered the city and even got into houses and bars. .

“My dad didn’t believe that there was a flood and he went to go see. Then a man called Vittorio came with a van and took us to his house. Mum didn’t take anything, just her handbag and a few panties for Serena”. (Rosanna, 7 years old)

“The water broke the locks in Faliero’s shop, and all the fruit came tumbling out as he stared at it, crying with regret”. (Fabio, 10 years old)

“As the water rose I saw a cart with bananas, tomatoes and potatoes” (Maria Luisa, 8 years old)

If it weren’t for those who had the foresight to propose a school drawing competition to mark the 50th anniversary, this valuable book could have been forgotten. The Comitato Firenze 2016 presented the competition, collected the drawings and picked the prize-winners, including the De Majo primary school in Pelago, whose illustration won the competition. This drawing, which unlike those of the children of ’66, putting wings on the angels who helped Florence, was chosen by the Poste Italiane to be put on the commemorative stamp.

“You could see the water rising and rising. So I went to the stairs and grabbed chairs, paintings, knick knacks, lights, to take them to the top floors. The sitting room was new but there was no time to save it. Everything was submerged under yellowish muddy water. Even the machinery which my mum, being a seamstress, used to sew from morning to evening”. (Maria Stella, 9 years old)

“I went down to Giannio’s house and saw such scary things; in the bedroom there were only the bedframes left, everything was completely broken”. (Manuela, 9 years old) 

“We saw pastries, boxes, tables, chocolates, mannequins, cars. We spent the day like that, looking at the water – blackened by oil – full of terror, knowing that it was continuing to rise”.  (Marina, 9 years old)

Yesterday’s children are today’s witnesses. Yet to really understand it, we must treasure the memories and build awareness based on those experiences. It’s not enough to have a competition half a century later that involves children who have (maybe) only just heard about the flood. Just think about the children and young people of Borgo San Lorenzo who we have previously written about, who will have an earthquake-resistant school made of wood and who plant a tree every year knowing that this will have a long-term effect in their town.

They probably won’t have the chance to weigh the result of this small but powerful gesture. Or maybe they will. But, as Rodari wrote, dreams and promises fly. “But now what will happen? Everyone will have a future full of achievement”.

gianluca testa